I was a rainstorm and a Chris Carpenter three-hitter away from sweeping the opening round of the MLB playoffs. Instead, another .500 showing, with my pick for the World Series – the Philadelphia Phillies – not among the winners. Oh well, always move forward. Here are my picks for the ALCS and NLCS (home-field team second).
ALCS: Detroit Tigers vs. Texas Rangers
Tigers coach Jim Leyland rolled the dice in Game 5 of the ALDS by keeping out Justin Verlander. The gambit paid off, because now the Tigers start the best pitcher in the majors in Game 1. Verlander is 6-2 lifetime against the Rangers, and he’s never lost in Arlington (3-0, 1.29 ERA). C.J. Wilson is a great pitcher, but Verlander is just better. Tigers take Game 1 on the road.
Not helping matters is the Rangers’ offense. More specifically: there lack thereof. The Rangers are the weakest-hitting team left in the playoffs. They hit the worst, they get on base the least, and they drive the ball the least often. They’ve hit as many home runs as any remaining team, but that’s where the offense stops. And while Doug Holland may beat Max Scherzer at Rangers Ballpark – a hitter’s park – in Game 2, that lack of offense is sure to influence Games 3 through 5 at Detroit’s cavernous Comerica Park.
The Rangers sport a mediocre .278 combined average against Doug Fister, who will start game 3 for the Tigers. Fister will still be amped from his ALDS Game 5 win over the Yankees, and that’s bad news for a Rangers team with such paltry on-base (.303) and slugging (.406) against him. If Fister can stay on top of Nelson Cruz (.500 avg, 1.390 OPS, home run), he should hold the Rangers in check long enough for the Tigers to get the better of Colby Lewis. The Tigers bat a combined .356 against Lewis, and everyone but backups Brandon Inge and Omir Santos has driven in at least one run.
Both Rangers starter Matt Harrison and Tigers starter Rick Porcello sport ERAs over 6.00, meaning Game 4 could be a slugfest. The Tigers have homered six times off Harrision, whereas the Rangers have homered once off Porcello. The Tigers also bat 50 points higher. The Tigers take the first two at home, then Verlander sends them to the World Series.
The Tigers won six of their nine games against the Rangers this season. Applying the same ratio, it shouldn’t take the Tigers the full seven to win the pennant. Prediciton: Tigers in 5.
Possible offensive key: Austin Jackson. In eight games against the Rangers this season, Jackson’s batted .333 with three extra-base hits, four RBIs and four walks. His career OBP against Texas’ four starters is .417.
NLCS: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Milwaukee Brewers
These two teams have far too much in common. They’ve already faced each other 18 times, splitting the season series 9-9 (each went 5-4 at home). Their offenses have been nearly identical this postseason: .315 vs. .314 (Cardinals higher) average, 68 vs. 66 total bases (Brewers higher), 10 doubles each, etc. The Cardinals field slightly better, but that’s only because their pitchers induce more grounders.
Although Zack Greinke has more experience with the Cardinals than Jaime Garcia has with the Brewers, Garcia has had slightly more success. The Cardinals surprise the Brewers with a Game 1 win. Look for St. Louis’ Matt Holliday (.417, two home runs off Greinke) in this game. But the Brewers even the series with a Game 2 victory over Edwin Jackson, who’s just 2-2 lifetime against them.
Prince Fielder is a career .308 hitter off Cardinals Game 3 starter Carpenter. The Brewers will need a good game from him to win Game 3, because their ace, Yovani Gallardo, has been rocked by the Cardinals in the past. Gallardo is 1-7 with a 5.66 ERA and 10 home runs allowed. His biggest nemesis: the thunderous Albert Pujols, who bats .444 with four homers and 10 RBIs.
The Cardinals take Game 3, and Kyle Lohse is better than anyone the Brewers have left. But Greinke won’t lose two games is a series, so the Brewers return to Milwaukee down 3-2.
The final two games can go one of two ways: either the Cardinals win in six behind a bounce-back performance from Jackson, or the Brewers win in seven after Gallardo gives a second brilliant final-game performance. Prediction: Cardinals in 6.
Possible offensive key: Gerald Laird. Though he’s only played in eight career games against the Brewers, Laird has batted .429 with a 1.000 OPS. Against Milwaukee’s four likely starters in the NCL, Laird is batting .333.